Earlier this year the Israeli government agreed to release more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, many of them terrorists, in exchange for the release of the captured soldier Gilad Shalit. If even two Israelis are killed by that batch, Israel will have gotten the raw end of the deal.
Everyone seems to understand this. The math isn’t difficult. They understood it at the time, too. The government, though, had been under enormous pressure from the entire society for years to strike even a bad deal. That pressure was fueled by emotion. The emotion was entirely legitimate, of course. Leaving an individual human being with the wolves—an individual human being with a name, a face, and a family—for the safety of the society in the abstract is a nasty thing even to contemplate, especially when Shalit’s name and face appeared on posters all over the country.
A thousand for one is bad math. More people will die with these sorts of exchanges than without them, especially since they give Hamas an incentive to kidnap even more people. Now that Hamas isn’t holding any Israelis captive, however, the math can be computed without emotion. New rules for prisoner exchanges will likely prevent any more similarly lopsided deals. The rational Israel of today is binding a more-emotional Israel of the future by law. Lives will be saved. We can’t know their names, but they will be saved. And there will be fewer kidnap victims to agonize over.